Early Memories - Beirut - as we landed

Summer of 1991

It was another summer vacation, this time my father promised it will be different. I was a young kid and the airplane descending on the Lebanese capital was the highlight of the short flight. The scenery from the airplane window was captivating to everyone. On the one-side there was an endless view of the Mediterranean, on the other was a cascading hill of green trees and white stone building.

I made a mental note of the Cyrus and Cedar trees that dominated the view from airplane windows. I also noted that many people were far too excited to be landing, my family included. I was almost sure that this was another Cyprus when the stairs approached the airplane.

At the airport was a rather chunky man, who looked like a 1970s mafioso. He wore his shirt with too many buttons undone, a gold necklace added to his fashion statement. The shirt looked like cheap silk, to complement the look, he stood by a Mercedes-Benz.

This was our chaperone for this trip. My father's favourite way to travel was to have someone arranged on arrival. To take off all the little nuisances that come with travel. "Mr. Qanso sends his regards, we will meet him in the next few days."

"Cyprus was flatter" was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the terrain on the side of the street. "Cyprus had better streets, this is more like Jordan"

A few minutes of our drive to the hotel passed and I started noticing the holes in the building. "What are those holes?" I asked my father. The sturdy man offered a first of his rather simplistic answers. "Because of the war, Ammo, this was a front-line." Ammo is the favourite term of endearment in the Levant when talking to kids, it translates to Uncle and is used to address both kids by adults and vice-versa

“What’s a front-line, Baba?” I had to ask, knowing that it had to do with war and addressing my father. I didn’t appreciate the simplistic answers that I got that aimed to silence me. "The green-line, Ammo, divided the area where the Christians were from the Muslims." With a large exhale, the man continued "May God never return those days"

I knew that this was my sign to remain quite. My father nodded to get me back to my seat. Unrelenting, I added, "It is hot". It was hot and the car did not seem to have an air conditioner. My siblings were all either half-asleep or just quite for the long drive up the mountain.
"Do you know why they called it the Green Line, Monsieur Khalil?" The man added after a few minutes of silence. "I heard that trees grew along it because of the lack of people." My father replied in wonderment, as if to question some common wisdom. "Correct, Monsieur Khalil, some trees were as tall as buildings and they had sprang out of the concrete."

"Life from death, I guess" my father added, as if to spin this into a positive.

There were not many positives to be seen, the country had just come out of the civil war, an encompassing affair that dragged on for more than 25 years and that changed the essence of Lebanon, forever.